Drew Edwards British, b. 1966
Born in 1966, Drew Edwards first trained as an actor before starting his practice as a sculptor at the turn of this century. His journey is one of a self-taught maker who from a very early age followed an urge to respond to an inner calling by sculpting. As a child his family would visit the main museums of Europe every year, and this had a lasting influence on him. Initially carving in wood, he progressed to increasingly uncompromising material and his work is now entirely produced from flint and granite.
At the start, Edwards was working as an outsider with no active contacts in the art world. This changed over the years and strong bonds of friendships with artists and writers were formed. However, the work retained that same raw pursuit driven by personal compulsions, and the urge to obtain near unattainable forms from unrelenting materials.
Sculpting with flint is an almost impossible undertaking as this material is harder and more brittle than most. Its convoluted shapes are the result of silicified fluid turned hundreds of millions of years ago into one of the heaviest minerals on earth. Our ancestors mastered fire with it and discovered that chipping it would produce extremely sharp tools. It became the primary material that defined the Stone Age and a building block for mankind’s nascent civilisations. However, practically no-one can tackle it as a medium for sculpting. There is a clear connection between the ingratitude and beauty of the material and Edwards’s obsessive need to extricate forms from it. Extracting massive flint boulders from a mine in Norfolk, Edwards then places them in his home for weeks in order to decipher what the stone will allow him to do. His art emerges from this narrow path between the will to shape and the need to yield, thus informing his practice and adding meaning to his work.
Edwards’s work is bound neither to the values of low or high art nor homage to classical forms embedded in our consciousness. While some of his sculpture makes fleeting reference to modernist sculptors of the early and mid-20th century, from Zadkine to Epstein, these visual associations are pure coincidences. Most of the time the figure is the goal, but the stone can relish in pure abstract forms. Some pieces could be mistaken for Neolithic sacred entities discovered by archaeological excavation. Themes are recurrent: organs, skulls, body parts, gaze. The work can sometimes appear to depict clusters of monsters and extreme human expressions or, on the contrary, the calming presence of bare humanity. Whether ironic or literal, autobiographical or engaged in universal narratives, the pursuit is pathos and emotional gravity surging from the toughest matter to overcome. Like the work itself, the artist is not easily categorizable. He could be described as an Outsider in view of his marginal beginnings, but the definition of this term stands in contradiction with his engagement in the art scene today. However, it is also not quite correct to eliminate him altogether from the Outsider spectrum, such has his own journey been: detached at first from the contexts that normally propel artists in our world.
If there have been interactions with that world, Edwards has taken an unusual path. Two works specifically illustrate this. Firstly, his (anonymous) gift to the Methodist church near Grenfell Tower, which became for many months a sanctuary from this tragedy. The granite elongated figure now stands as a revered symbol of sorrow and consolation at the entrance of the church. Secondly, his monumental Children of the Mediterranean, 2017, a poignant and powerful homage to refugees lost at sea: a large crowd of 91 life-size standing figures of children offered to their cruel destiny, in which the vulnerability of its subjects is paradoxically amplified by the arresting mass of granite. This work is currently exhibited at the Middlesex University Ritomond plinth.
Singular and unclassifiable, Drew Edwards’s work is a significant addition to today’s contemporary art scene.
A special credit goes to the artists Simon English, Neil Gall and Tasha, for discovering and supporting Drew Edwards from the early days. Together they have produced a book, to be published in November 2021, with essays of the personal account of their friendship: Shit Stinks but it’s Warm, Lotus Press, 2021. The book will be available to purchase on this website.